Bisse de Sion and Bisse d’Ayent Walk, Valais, Switzerland

As I was about to set off to do this walk yesterday, Jude said to me “Be careful!” I replied saying that there was nothing to worry about as I wasn’t going anywhere precipitous or dangerous. Er… WRONG!!

My plan was to pick off another of the many bisses or watercourses in the Valais. This time it would be the Bisse de Sion but, to make it into a loop, I would return via the Bisse d’Ayent (previously posted here). As you can tell, I wasn’t expecting any difficulties (or any snow) as bisses are generally flat and the Bisse de Sion runs at a height of around 1,750m (5,740ft) on the south facing/sunny side of the Rhone valley. Put into context, my walk on Friday was at a height of 2,000m (6,560ft) and there was only a few inches of snow.

Everything was going as expected until I was about half to Lac de Tseuzier. OK, there had been a bit of snow in the very shaded areas, but nothing to indicate what was to come. Picture 11 shows where I first encountered some significant snow but this was quickly overcome. However, there were two much bigger challenges waiting around the corner (shown in pictures 17 to 21). Thankfully the snow was well packed and the air temperature sufficiently high to make it easy to stamp solid footholds in the top of the snow. Also my new cross-country trainers have a series of studs which added to my confidence in getting around and/or over these obstacles.

If you look closely at the centre of picture 21, you will see my ‘steps’ down in the snow. It looks dangerous, but I can assure you there were some very good hand-holds on that rock to the right, otherwise I would never have attempted it.

From then on, although there was some more snow, it was very easy going and at no point throughout the walk did my feet ever sink in above the level of my shoes, let alone my ankles. When I reached the ski parking area at Les Rousses, the signs indicated that the road and my route through the tunnel was closed. (See pic 24). So, having had enough challenges for one day, I turned about and walked over 2km (1.5 miles) down the road until I found a path which led me to the much lower and snow-free Bisse d’Ayent. This did at least allow me to get a sort of bird’s eye view of the Bisse d’Ayent. (See to the right of pic 27).

I should also have mentioned in my previous post on this subject that the Bisse d’Ayant is such an iconic example that the Swiss have decided to put a picture of it on their 100 Swiss franc note. That’s about 110 US dollars or 85 UK pounds. (I’d include a picture but I’m afraid I haven’t got one!)

Mayens du Cotter Walk, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

After a week of sunny, but cool, weather, yesterday I decided to check out how high the snow line had risen to on the south west facing side of the valley. I expected the small pond at Béplan to be still under snow, but the chalets at Mayens du Cotter to be clear and so it proved…

My plan was to walk along the relatively flat track from there and drop down to Les Haudères. But I’d forgotten that the cross path went up again and I could see that it was still covered in quite a lot of snow. Not wishing to have a repeat of my epic walk of 2 weeks ago, I decided to make my way back down to Villa. From there, to make it into a sort of figure of 8 loop, I walked down the road to La Sage and took a quick detour up to the small Chapelle de Saint-Christophe, before descending the path to La Tour and home again.

As you will see from the gallery below, I still managed to find a little bit of snow, but it was only between 5 and 20 cm (2 to 8 inches) deep. It must have been pretty cold too, as most of streams were partly frozen. (See pics 9 and 10).

And I’m glad I did this walk yesterday as, overnight, we’ve had another 5cm (2″) of the white stuff. Hopefully that’s the last for a long while…

Walk to Le Vanil des Cours and Mont Bifé, Gruyère, Switzerland

The mountains of the Swiss Prealps are relatively small compared to their taller cousins to the south east. (Indeed, I’ve just read here that there are 1206 named peaks in the Prealps, stretching from the eastern end of Lac Léman/Lake Geneva all the way across Switzerland to Lichtenstein and the highest of them is the Schilthorn at 2,973m or 9,754ft). So, while Jude took a drive up the Jaun Pass, I walked from Charmey to the top of two of them, the Vanil des Cours (@1,562m or 5125ft) and Mont Bifé (@1,482m or 4,862ft).

As I walked between the two peaks I was pleased to spot a Crossbill enjoying the view over Lac de la Gruyère. He hung around for quite a while, so I decided to take a video in the hope that the zoom might get a closer view. Sadly this was not to be but, while filming, his mate came along with some nesting material and he decided to vacate his perch to a lower branch (see pic 21). He obviously knew his place! Please check out the video after the image gallery. (It’ll never make the Wildlife Film of the Year awards, but you’ll get the idea). 😊

Walk around Lac de Montsalvens, Gruyère, Switzerland

Like many of you no doubt, Jude and I have been longing to get away for a bit of a break. The hotels in Switzerland are still open and we took advantage of a special Dinner, Bed and Breakfast offer at a hotel in the small village of Charmey.

I think it’s fair to say that the Gruyère region is more ‘chocolate box’ pretty than the more rugged Alps of the Valais, as I hope these photos show.

Walk from La Luette to Sion, Valais, Switzerland

The weather has been pretty warm across most of Central Europe for the past week or so and a few of the butterflies have come out to play. I therefore decided to take a walk down the Val d’Hérens to see what I could find.

I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t see anything along the upper path leading to Ossona, as the temperature was still only 5 degrees C (41 F). After dropping down to the river, I took a detour to take some photos of the ancient Pont Riva footbridge and was bemoaning my luck, thinking it must still be too early, when not one but two Orange Tips came along at once. Conveniently they were a male and female and they stayed still long enough to get some reasonable pictures.

I then missed two Camberwell Beauties, something brown and a large orange one, but as I got nearer to the (much warmer) Rhone valley, a lot more butterflies and a skipper appeared. I was lucky to capture the Brimstone, as most of them seemed to be taking part in some sort of long distance flight race. And, I wasn’t expecting to see a Comma this early in the year, but I spotted at least 4 in my travels.

Also, it’s funny what you see in your photographs when you go through them. If you look closely at the Pasqueflower in picture 20, you will see a small green resident. And the Comma picture (no. 44) wasn’t my best, but it also had a small creature crawling up the branch, so I decided to include that one in the gallery.

Arolla to Lac Bleu (Walk 10) in the (deep) snow

I promised in my post on Monday that I would return to do this walk with my GPS. I knew that things would be ‘interesting’ when the GPS showed I was about 10 metres to the right of the road I was walking on to get to the start. A walk, of around 4km or 2.5 miles, which would take me no more than 1h 30 mins in the summer, turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Read on…

It wasn’t long before I reached the point where I turned around last time and I discovered that the path did a quick left-right zig-zag up the hill. So far, so good, but the way ahead still wasn’t crystal clear. I spent the next hour or so picking my way through the trees, often knee deep in snow, either just to the left or just to the right of the line shown on the GPS. If I was to the left, the route below and to the right often looked easier. Then I’d look up and the route above looked better. Never mind one zig-zag, I must have zig-zagged all the way along that first section.

I came across the open area where I was worried before about an avalanche. I decided to drop down to where the trees were only 10 to 15 metres apart. Big mistake. I took one step down and my leg disappeared into a huge hole. It was like stepping off a 3 foot wall (or rock probably). I was instantly thrown forward, down the slope and started to slide. The good news was that I was going head first and so I could see that I was heading for a small bush. I grabbed a branch and this arrested my slide. The bush, or at least what’s sticking out of the snow, can be seen just below the centre of picture 8, with the hole up to the right (below the middle one of the three trees top right).

Safely on the other side, the going got much easier as the snow had been cleared by the sun – but only for about 300 to 400 metres. My next challenge was a short section which was/is ‘protected’ by a metal chain. (They normally fix these where the ground goes away steeply, or straight down, to the side). The problem was that half of the chain was still under snow and I couldn’t get it out to hold onto. So I had to kick foot holds, VERY carefully over the top. (See pics 13 and 14).

And then it got worse…

I was back in the woods, zig-zagging up and down the slopes again and the snow got deeper and deeper. I reached a gully where I could see a bridge, slightly above, which I needed to cross, but the way around to it, looked too risky. So I climbed up through the trees, thinking it would be safer to make my way across and down to it. (You may have gathered by now that turning back was not really an option as I was much nearer to Lac Bleu than Arolla).

Then I heard voices, which turned out to be a some ski-tourers coming down the gully. A guide, 30 metres (or 100ft) below, was calling to his clients. I figured that if he could get there on skis, I could get across to the bridge – and so I dropped back down to where I’d started. But getting around to the bridge proved to be the hardest challenge of all.

I kid you not, the ‘slope’ of the snow must have been at least 60 or 70 degrees. So I was trying to climb up by kicking my feet into the snow, but as soon as I put my weight on my foot, it went back down to, more or less, where it started. It must have taken me about 20 minutes to cover just 25 metres. The snow was that deep it was over the top of the sides of the bridge. So I did, literally, go ‘over’ the bridge.

After more zig-zagging through the trees, I came to another gully. And the view back down to Satarma (pic 16) looked infinitely more appealing than another 20 minutes or more working my way around to what might have been a good path to Lac Bleu and then a descent to La Gouille and Satarma. So that’s what I did, I ‘walked’ (more like, stumbled) down the snowy slope, sometimes ankle deep, sometimes knee deep and more than once up to my thighs. Twice I got myself stuck, where I couldn’t move either leg, but luckily there was a branch nearby to help haul myself upright and out.

Five hours and 45 minutes after setting off, I arrived in Satarma. My feet were wet and soggy after all the snow that had melted into my boots. I took them off, wrung out the water from my socks and put them back on before trudging, disconsolately, back up the road to Arolla. I’ve never been so pleased and relieved to finish a walk.

I hope you’ll forgive me if I avoid snowy walks for the next few weeks…

Note that the last 3 photos below were taken on the way back to Evolène.

Lac Léman and Château de Chillon, Vaud, Switzerland

On Tuesday, Jude and I took a trip down to Switzerland’s largest lake, Lac Léman or Lake Geneva. We parked up in Villeneuve, which lies at the eastern end and walked along the lakeside towards Montreux. Along the way is one of Switzerland’s “Top 10” tourist sites, the Château de Chillon.

The site began as a Roman outpost, to guard the route through the alpine passes, but construction started in the 10th century. As you can imagine it has an interesting history and you can read all about it here.

Equally interesting are the legends which surround the small island seen in picture 4. Surprisingly (to me anyway) it’s the only natural island in the lake, Technically it’s called the Île de Peilz but, being British, I like the story about it being given as a gift to Queen Victoria when she visited the region. A tree was planted on the island and it’s known as Queen Victoria’s tree. For more legends and even a video of the tree please click here.

Note that the first two images below were taken near Ollon, on our way to the lake.

Snowy walk around Arolla, Val d’Hérens, Switzerland

By stark contrast to the Spring-like conditions of my post yesterday, the situation up at the top end of our valley, in Arolla (@2,000m or 6,560ft) couldn’t be more different. The snow is still 60cm or 2ft deep in places and, on Sunday, the place was over-run with skiers getting their end of season fix.

My plan was to walk the last of my “Easy” walks (Walk 10) from Arolla to Lac Bleu, but I soon discovered that the path was hard to find. (Note to self – take the GPS next time!) Picture 4 below shows the signpost where I was due to turn left. I thought twice about it, but persevered. About 20 minutes later, having seen no way markers for the past 10 minutes, I gave up and came back to the same junction and went right.

This lower path was meant to be a snow-shoeing route but, again, I somehow managed to get off the official route and found myself facing a trudge across an open snow-field with a slope of at least 45 degrees from up left down to the right. Now, almost every week we hear of people dying in avalanches, so, with the sun blazing down, I wasn’t going to risk adding to that statistic and I made my way, very carefully, down to the road under the ‘cover’ of several bushes and trees.

“What now?” I thought to myself and, rather than walk back along the road, I headed across to the other side of the river and followed the snow-shoeing route, before taking a rather cheeky short cut across the cross-country piste back to Arolla. At least it gave me the chance to take some more photos for you. 😊

I shall return later this coming week, with GPS in hand, to complete Walk 10 (if I can).

Walk in the Pfyn-Finges Nature Reserve, Valais, Switzerland

On Friday Jude and I drove down to the Rhone valley to take a stroll around the Pfyn-Finges Nature Reserve. We’ve been there a few times before, most notably last year when we spotted oodles of wildlife – but then, that was in June. So we were not sure what to expect, though the sun was shining and the temperature was in the teens (55-60’s F).

As you will see below, there wasn’t a huge amount of variety, but there were loads of damselflies. Rather frustratingly, they remained just out of reach for me to get a good, crisp photograph to identify them for sure. But what the images lack in quality is made up for in quantity… 😉

Deer, deer, deer… (Nature watch, Evolène, Valais, Switzerland)

With the snow still being around, I put the trail cam up around the tree to see what might wander into our garden. Jude and I wondered whether the stag might return, but no, last Saturday evening the camera captured this (young?) male Roe deer (below). His antlers are just growing and somewhat smaller than those of ‘our’ Red deer stag!

I should point out that Jude has been putting up the bird feeders during the day and taking them in at night, which is why they seem to like grazing under the tree and a little too close to the camera. So I’ve been adjusting it and the 2 plant pots, which were beneath the tree, as the week has progressed to get some better shots of the action.

The following night (around 2am on Monday morning) he returned and was surprised, but seemingly not concerned, by another visitor…

And, the following night, (Tuesday at 1am), a slightly more mature male visited…

Around 4 hours later, (5am Tuesday) a female arrived. She obviously felt at home as she settled down for a rest…

And then last night, this fox was obviously taken aback by the ‘eyes’ (aka lenses) of the trail cam…

Finally we have 2 videos, (one taken at 3am this morning and one at 5:45am) of both a male and female happily grazing together on the bits and pieces that we had left out for them… (I also have a clip of 3 together but it wasn’t as good as these… 😊)